Dancing in the Wilderness

Faith and I did not know we were standing on the precipice of the wilderness three years ago as all we could see was bone-chilling darkness. After most of an adult life in Japan we were attuned to the profound need for belonging and we understood what it was not to belong. It had not occurred to us that we would feel the worst sort of exclusion and disenfranchisement from American Christians. We learned the hard way that speaking against power, even the power of a Christian institution, would forever mark us as outsiders. The cost of belonging, the silent acquiescence we were so familiar with in Japan, we had presumed, wrongly, would not be a price required among the “non-idolatrous.” As I look back at the misogyny, the open financial corruption, the abuse of students and faculty, the price of being inside now appears obviously idolatrous. But it may be that it is only from the wilderness, which at first felt very punishing and lonely, that the reality of the flesh pots of Egypt are exposed. As we walked into the wilderness, we slowly discovered this beautiful community outside the gates.

I met a limping prophet who had wrestled with God, the ever-encouraging Barnabas, the young Priscilla and Aquila, but all carry the scars of having passed out of the city gates.  Mainly what we have accomplished as a group is to have found community. The love we have discovered is in direct proportion to the feeling we were unprotected, alienated, and permanent exiles.  As we have limped along together, we have studied Romans, Hebrews, John, Galatians, Exodus, and books on peacemaking and community.

We have also attempted to extend this community through various social media and through Ploughshares Bible Institute. Statistically we may be insignificant, we have though, attempted to provide an in-depth sort of theological and practical peaceableness that is otherwise mainly unavailable. Among the 13,000 downloads of our podcasts (some 250) in more than 50 countries we have been surprised to discover listeners in the Netherlands, Canada, Hungary, Australia, France, Denmark, and several Muslim countries. 2018 saw the inauguration of Ploughshares Bible Institute – organized mainly by my favorite prophet, Jason. Between us we completed four classes and graduated our first student with a PBI certificate.

In 2019 Vangie Rodenbeck will launch the year with the course Marginalization and Restorative Justice: a biblical and theological study of the Kingdom of God approach to issues of power and inequality among oppressed groups including gender, race, disability, socio-economic status, etc. We have not had huge numbers of students but these few have been in Mexico, India, and the United States.

As Jen Hatmaker describes it, “the loneliest steps are the ones between the city walls and the heart of the wilderness, where safety is in the rearview mirror, new territory remains to be seen, and the path out to the unknown seems empty.”  What we found as we slogged through this unknown territory was indeed a “thriving, dancing, creating, celebrating, belonging” made authentic by the price of entry. Pretense, position, power, arrogance, had all been singed away and what was left for us was a vibrant community of those unleashed from brick making and joined in celebration.[1]

Thanks to all of you who have joined the dance in the wilderness. As we look forward to 2019 we hope more will hear the message of peace.


[1]Brené Brown, who I am following in the title and description of the wilderness, is quoting Jen Hatmaker, from Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (pp. 152-153). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.




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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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